Tag Archives: James Bennett

Conversations with Black Artists, Part II

By Terri Roberts

Here, in the second part of our series of conversations with Black artists who have frequently worked with the Fountain Theatre, we talk with actor and director’s assistant Erinn Anova, as well as actors Karen Malina White and Victoria Platt. More conversations to come. Stay tuned!

Erinn Anova

Actor: Central Avenue, Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, Cyrano. Assistant to the Director: The Ballad of Emmett Till, In the Red and Brown Water

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I first came to the Fountain as the understudy for “Angel” in Central Avenue. Shirley Jo Finney had just directed me in Blues for an Alabama Sky in Northern California, and I’d recently moved to LA. She knew I was a huge jazz fan, and suggested I audition for the new play she was directing: Central Avenue. That play was so good! It went on for six months, so even as an understudy I had plenty of shows.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Great! I gained amazing friendships, and I’ve learned so much! I’ve had the opportunity to work with world-class playwrights, actors and designers. When I moved to New York, the Fountain was one of the few LA theatres that people have actually heard of. Overall, the Fountain feels like home – the quirks, the magic, the consistency. I just love it.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why? 

They have all been great, but I’m going to have to go with two, for very different reasons.

First, Cyrano. It was such a gift for me, as a hearing person, to be immersed in the deaf community. In this whole new world, I learned about deafness and its power, about language and somatics, and about life. It changed me.

As far as acting goes the whole cast was amazing, but sharing scenes with Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) was something-other-else. It’s what I imagine working with another genius, Charlie Chaplin, would be like, and I’m not exaggerating. I also have to shout out Stephen Sachs for casting me – a dark brown, short-haired black woman (someone not always so “visible” in Hollywood) as the love interest, Roxy. The fact that there was never even a conversation about it was even sweeter. 

Finally – very few people know this, but now’s as good a time as ever to share – a few years after Cyrano closed, and after some mysterious symptoms appeared, I was diagnosed with both hearing loss and an auditory processing disorder. It made so much of my life make sense, and now I wear hearing aids in both ears. That was a very scary time, and folks have no idea how badly regulated the hearing aid business is (that’s another story.) But because of Cyrano, I had people to reach out to. Maleni Chaitoo, one of the deaf actors, helped me tremendously with her knowledge and resources to navigate that journey, and I will always be grateful for her warm welcome into the hard of hearing/deaf community. Cyrano was a blessing.

Next, In the Red and Brown Water. For that show there was no “official” casting person – it was me! I was assisting Shirley Jo, and I believe James Bennett or Stephen gave me a general rundown of how to work the casting websites, and I was off and running. Of course, Shirley Jo gave me parameters of what to look for, but I am very proud of the amazing actors that I personally picked to come in for auditions. There were a few I even fought for: Diarra Kilpatrick, Maya Lynne Robinson, Stephen Marshall, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Justin Chu Cary and Simone Missick. Along with Iona Morris, Theo Perkins, Peggy Blow, and Dorian Baucum, this was one of the most phenomenal casts I’ve ever seen. They, along with Shirley Jo’s brilliant and elevating direction, made Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play fly. And they all turned out to be wonderful people, too! It’s been a joy to see everyone continue to shine bright in theatre, television, and film, and it’s even more of a blessing to be a part of the IRBW “family.”

One more: Direct From Death Row: Scottsboro Boys. This show has special meaning for me because Ben Bradley cast me in it. Rest in peace, Ben. Also, Mark Stein, who wrote it, and my brother, Harley White, Jr., who wrote the music, were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  They lost out to some musical called Hamilton.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

My work has been impacted by the fact that that these conversations about racism are just now happening in the theatre world. At some point I stopped investing time and interest in pursuing work in “mainstream” theatres. As my grandmother would say, “Go where you’re wanted, honey.” I started in theatre very young (age 12) and in my naivete, I think I mistook the magic and camaraderie of theatre as a place where kindness and respect for humanity were built in. Often they are not. Some of my worst racial experiences have happened at theatres.  No place is perfect, but I appreciate that the Fountain has always been interested in producing plays, supporting playwrights, and hiring actors from various cultures, with different abilities, and with numerous points of view — including BIPOC. It’s unique.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

It’s American history.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I’m currently producing a documentary based on a study done by the University of California. It’s about racial disparities in marijuana arrests and the cannabis industry, and it’s called When The Smoke Clears. I’ve ot two national commercials that should start airing this spring. And I found a fantastic illustrator, so my children’s book, Pretty Bun, will finally be published this summer!   

Karen Malina White

Actor: The Ballad of Emmett Till, Citizen: An American Lyric, Runaway Home

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I had auditioned for The Ballad of Emmet Till when it was being produced by The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. I was beat out by the one and only Deidrie Henry (Yellowman, Coming Home at the Fountain.) But a friend called me out of the blue to invite me to a reading of it at the Fountain. I was so excited! I hadn’t heard of the Fountain at that time but rushed and hoped I could get inside to hear the reading. I so loved the play and felt an enormous attachment to it. When I got there I saw both the playwright, Ifa Bayeza, and Oz Scott, who directed the Goodman production. I loved the new configuration with five actors playing all the parts, which was not the case in the Chicago production. Oz introduced me to Ben Bradley. Time moved on and that same friend, John McDonald. reached out to say that Ben Bradley was scrambling to find me to audition. So grateful and honored to have been a part of that life changing and bonding production.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Working at the Fountain is wonderful. It’s home now, and Stephen, Simon and Debra, the designers , (technical director) Scott Tuomey, and you, Terri, make every experience a joy!

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

The Ballad of Emmett Till, because it was my first and because of the tragic circumstances surrounding it as well as the eternal friendships that came out of that experience. Finally working with Shirley Jo Finney, too.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

I’m a company member of Antaeus, and we have been having some amazing conversations and taking major actions to be inclusive and reflect the most accurate picture of the best of America. It’s now a conscious decision to have our productions reflect inclusiveness and racial equity. We are looking forward to the work.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Because it’s American History. African American History. So much of us know about the history of the dominant culture but not enough of other cultures. We have to remedy that.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I have been fortunate enough to be working on The Proud Family reboot with Disney Plus Channel. Coming soon to the streaming service.

Victoria Platt           

Actor: Cyrano, Building the Wall, Natural Shocks (staged reading)

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I can’t recall the very first production I saw. It was waaay back. But it was late ‘90s that I started coming to see productions there. Victory, In the Red and Brown Water, Emmet Till, The Brothers Size to name a few. The first production I was in was Cyrano.

2. How has your experience been working here?

It’s always wonderful. Simon Levy and Stephen Sachs hold this work with great care and respect. Every production I see at the Fountain is inspiring, thought provoking, and well produced. Hard to find all those elements simultaneously.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

Everything I’ve done at the Fountain has been important. That’s what they do there – important, meaningful work. Natural Shocks brought gun violence and violence against women to the stage. I love that Stephen chose to give the play four voices instead of the one it was written as. Cyrano was an incredible experience because I was reunited with Troy Kotsur (we performed together in Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum) and it was a co-production with Deaf West (as was Pippin.) I learned ASL for Pippin and kept it up, so the opportunity to use ASL on the stage again, to bring theatre to hearing and deaf audience members, and to work again with Troy was a trifecta of awesomeness for me. Building the Wall though was probably the most poignant for me because of the content. Seeing how it all played out in the real world was a testament to the prophetic words of Robert Schenkkan. It was an honor to tell that story at that time. After each show I spoke with audience members who were not just impacted by the work but were compelled to action. That is one of the blessings of all the productions at the Fountain. They not only educate, and enlighten but inspire. Good theatre is supposed to do that.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

The issues that have emerged for some recently, have always been present within the BIBOC (Black Indigenous Bodies of Culture) community. I’m grateful to George Floyd and the countless others who shed their blood to shine a light on the injustices BIBOC have been experiencing for centuries. I’ve encountered more people willing to have real conversations about race, socio-economics and frankly all the ‘isms. And finally, the hard conversations are being had. I was accepted into Communal Consultations – a program created and run by My Grandmother’s Hands author Resmaa Menakem, which will deal with healing ancestral and racialized trauma. This training will allow me more insight into how I can use my work as an artist to bring more awareness and healing to people of all bodies.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Unfortunately, Black History month is important because there is still grave inequality and oppression. People in Black bodies are still being murdered for no reason except being Black, and with no consequences. Black History Month is one of the necessary actions that highlight how people in Black bodies have contributed to the fabric of this nation; not just the fringe of it. In too many arenas, Black History Month is used as a performative practice, but sometimes even performative practices make their way past the ego and into the soul.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

For the past year I’ve been blessed to have recurring guest star work on NCIS, Good Trouble and Days of Our Lives. I’ve also been working as a motion capture (mocap) performer on a video game by 2K productions, which has yet to be named but due for release later this year. I can also be seen in A Cold Hard Truth, a film by Charles Murray (Luke Cage, Sons of Anarchy), now streaming on multiple platforms, and A Hard Problem, a film I also co-starred in, will release this March.

Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.

Fountain Theatre weekend event ‘Raise Your Voice’ seeks to activate public to vote

Actors in rehearsal for Raise Your Voice.

Events on the streets and online

The Fountain Theatre is readying Raise Your Voice – Vote!, a guerrilla style, immersive theater event set to take place over the course of two days at six locations throughout the City of Los Angeles. Watch the live-stream every hour on the hour beginning at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Sunday, Oct. 25 at www.FountainTheatre.com.

Conceived by acclaimed playwright and Fountain Theatre community engagement coordinator France-Luce Benson and co-directed by Benson and Lily OckwellRaise Your Voice – Vote!aims to build momentum and awareness about the upcoming election while bringing theater for the people to the people. The five-member acting ensemble (Victor AnthonyJessica EmmanuelWonjung KimTheo Perkins and Rayne J. Raney) will present a series of pop up performances in six public spaces, each representative of L.A.’s cultural landscape. Each performance will feature America’s most iconic speeches about voting rights, plus dance and song. Volunteers will be stationed at every location to offer assistance with voter registration and voter education.

“We want to create an event that is inspirational, but never didactic,” explains Benson. “The performers will be in conversation with each other and with the people around them, blending in, respecting and embracing whichever community we’re in.”

Each of the performances will be live-streamed and will also be augmented by a series of surprise appearances, posts and performances on the Fountain Theatre’s social media pages in support of voter awareness.

Send Us Your Selfie on Voting

Want to engage in the Fountain’s newest project? We want you to upload a short selfie video (2 mins or less) of yourself expressing how important it is to vote. Nothing fancy. Can literally be taken on a smartphone. Just speak from your heart. Be passionate. What does voting mean to you? Why does voting matter? Do you have a personal story about voting? These video selfies will air at the top of each hour, from 10am to 6pm, on all Fountain social platforms and website.

Important: 

  • You (we) cannot endorse a specific candidate.
  • Do not mention Trump or Biden by name.
  • Shoot your selfie horizontal, not vertical.   

The purpose of the event is to use theatre as a trigger to activate the public to vote, to emphasize the responsibility of voting, to remind each other of the price some have paid to vote, to express the urgency to participate in this election and in our democracy.

Raise Your Voice – Vote! is produced by Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy for the Fountain Theatre. James Bennett is live-stream editor, and Terri Roberts is volunteer coordinator. The event is underwritten by Miles and Joni Benickes, Diana BuckhantzKaren KondazianMaggi PhillipsSusan StockelDorothy Wolpert, and Don and Suzanne Zachary. Event partners include volunteer organizations The Social Ripple Effect and Big Sunday.

For more information, to find out how you can volunteer and to live-stream Raise Your Voice –Vote! on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25, go to www.fountaintheatre.com.

PHOTOS: Opening night party celebrates world premiere of ‘Human Interest Story’

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The company of Human Interest Story celebrate Opening Night.

The opening night of the world premiere of a new play at the Fountain Theatre is always an event to celebrate. Such was the case on Saturday, February 15, with the official launch of Human Interest Story, written and directed by Stephen Sachs. A sold-out house gave the powerful and timely new play a standing ovation, and then gathered upstairs in our charming cafe for a catered reception with the company.

In the play, newspaper columnist Andy Kramer is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes the City Chronicle. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman to stand-in as the fictitious Jane Doe. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.

early reviews have been laudatory. Theatre Notes has hailed the Fountain production as “Astonishing” and On Stage Los Angeles declares it “A Must See.”

Get your tickets now. Enjoy these photos from the Opening Night!

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World premiere ‘Human Interest Story’ explores homelessness and truth in journalism

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Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”

“The line between where you are now and sleeping in your car is much thinner than you think.” The Fountain Theatre presents the world premiere of a timely new play, written and directed by Stephen Sachs (Arrival & Departure, Citizen: An American Lyric, Bakersfield Mist), about homelessness, celebrity worship and the assault on American journalism. Human Interest Story opens at the Fountain on Feb. 15, where performances continue through April 5.

Set in the fast-moving world of new media, Human Interest Story chronicles the journey of newspaper columnist Andy Kramer, played by award-winning actor Rob Nagle (recent credits include Apple Season at Moving Arts and The Judas Kiss at Boston Court). Suddenly laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper — a print publication struggling for readers in changing times — Andy fabricates a letter to his column in retaliation. The letter, from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world, goes viral, and Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander —  Mono/Poly at the Odyssey and Future Sex Inc. at the Lounge) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.

According to Sachs, the play is about how contrary and opposing impulses can hide in the same human being. “A newspaper columnist, in the course of writing a human interest story on another individual, is forced to confront truths about himself,” he explains.

The cast also includes James Harper, previously seen at the Fountain in The Accomplices, as newspaper publisher Harold Cain. Playing multiple roles are Richard Azurdia (My Mañana Comes at the Fountain), Aleisha Force (Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at Virginia Shakes, Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa at Barnstormers Theatre), Matt Kirkwood (Our Class at Son of Semele, The Goat or, who is Sylvia? at the LGBT Center) and Tarina Pouncy (Vendetta Chrome at Coeurage Theatre; Les Blancs at Rogue Machine; and The Old Settler at International City Theatre, for which she garnered an NAACP award).

The creative team for Human Interest Story includes scenic and video designer Matthew G. Hill; lighting designer Jennifer Edwards; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne; costume designer Shon LeBlanc; video hair and makeup designer Diahann McCrary; and prop master Michael Allen Angel. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, and the assistant stage manager is Nura FerdowsiSimon LevyJames Bennett and Deborah Culver produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include David and Mary Jo VolkLaurel and Robert SiltonLois Tandy; and Toby and Daniel Bernstein. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.

The story was initially inspired by the 1941 Frank Capra classic film Meet John Doe.

Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre and the author of 15 plays. Recent work includes his Deaf/Hearing love story, Arrival & Departure (“Critic’s Choice,” Los Angeles Times); his stage adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, starring Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina at L.A. City Hall; and his stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which premiered at the Fountain Theatre and was remounted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. His play Bakersfield Mist is performed worldwide. Sachs’ screenplay Sweet Nothing in my Ear, based on his play, was made into a CBS TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin. As director, he is a two-time Ovation Award winner and was recently honored by the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s recent West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. This season, the Southern California premiere of Daniel’s Husband and the currently extended Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists.

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Audience picks Round 2 winner of Fountain Theatre’s Rapid Development Series

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George Roland, Paul Burt and Anna Baumgarten read “Eldritch” at Fountain Theatre.

Monsters Are Made by Hannah C. Langley was voted by audience members as the Round 2 winner in last week’s 5th Annual ‘Rapid Development Series for Young Writers. In Langley’s playRicki is faced with a difficult set of questions when Hunter, her rapist and former friend, forces his way back into her life a year after he’s declared not guilty in the court of public opinion.

As the winning script, Monsters Are Made will receive a professional staged reading at the Fountain Theatre later this month.

Langley explains the journey of writing Monsters Are Made:

After years of telling the story of my own “bad experience” with a former friend in a hotel room as a short comic anecdote, I realized that it was anything but funny. It was terrifying, but the only way I could process that level of betrayal for a long time was by rewriting it, sanitizing it, making it into something you could talk about at a party. What I really needed to do (and what I’ve tried to do with this play) was keep rewriting it—researching and raising the stakes—until the story wasn’t about what happened to me anymore. It needed to be someone else’s. It needed to be Ricki’s and it needed to be Hunter’s. And, I hope, even though it’s no longer my story, it’s a more truthful one.”

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Playwright Hannah Langley outside the Fountain Theatre.

Hannah C. Langley is an emerging playwright, screen and television writer from Valencia, California. Her plays approach political topics on a personal scale. With a mix of magic and modern technology, Langley creates protagonists who are young, female-identifying, and on the verge of finding themselves. Her USC thesis play, Losing My Religion (in 140 Characters or Less), received a workshop production at USC, staged readings at Cypress College and the Pasadena Playhouse, and was recorded as a podcast by At the Table: A Play Reading Series, featuring Broadway’s Abby Church, Max Crumm, Aneesh Sheth, and Tony nominee Isabel Keating. The play has since earned semifinalist status in both The Road and Sanguine Theatre NYC’s summer play festivals.

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Created and produced in 2014 by James Bennett and Jessica Broutt, The Fountain Theatre’s Rapid Development Series is designed to showcase the work of previously unproduced, Los Angeles-based playwrights under the age of 30.

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Audiences pick the winner in Fountain Theatre’s 5th annual Rapid Development Series for young writers

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You be the judge: the audience will determine which play gets a professional staged reading at the Fountain Theatre in Round 2 of the company’s 5th annual competition-style reading series, set for ThursdayMay 9 at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

The contestants are Eldritch by Michael Herman, a dark fairytale set in pagan Ireland that explores human monstrosity, adolescence and, ultimately, love — vs. — Monsters Are Made by Hannah C. Langley, in which Ricki is faced with a difficult set of questions when Hunter, her rapist and former friend, forces his way back into her life a year after he’s declared not guilty in the court of public opinion.

The Fountain’s Rapid Development Series is designed to showcase the work of previously unproduced, Los Angeles-based playwrights under the age of 30. In Round 1, each of four playwrights presented a section of a new play currently in development, and the audience voted to determine which two would continue to Round 2. In Round 2, audiences will see the entire first half of each of those two plays, followed by another vote. The winning play and playwright will be announced at the end of the evening in the Fountain’s upstairs café, where complimentary refreshments will be served. The prize: two professional staged readings of the entire play on the Fountain stage at the end of May.

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‘Daniel’s Husband’ reunites actors Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings at the Fountain Theatre

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Jenny O’Hara, Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup.

There is the rule of law, and there are the laws of the heart. Which do we follow and when? The Fountain Theatre presents the funny, passionate and poignant Southern California premiere of Daniel’s Husbandthe 2018 off-Broadway hit play by Michael McKeever that was hailed as “compelling” by The New York Times, “emotionally charged” by the Huffington Post and “beautiful and powerful” by the Daily Beast. Opening night is set for May 4, with performances continuing through June 23. Pay-what-you-want previews begin May 1.

A bold commentary on love, commitment and family in our perilous new world, Daniel’s Husband reunites director Simon Levy, who helmed the Fountain’s 2013 award-winning production of The Normal Heart, with the stars of that production, Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings. This time, the two play Daniel Bixby and Mitchell Howard — a seemingly perfect couple. What isn’t so perfect is that Daniel desperately longs to be married, but Mitchell doesn’t believe in it. When an unexpected turn of events puts their perfect life in jeopardy, they are thrust into a future where love may not be enough.

“When I first read Daniel’s Husband, I fell in love with the love story and was deeply moved by it,” says Levy. “One of the central questions the play asks is, ‘How far will you go to fight for the one you love?’ The characters wrestle with what it means to be committed to someone, to be ‘married’ — and what’s legally and morally lost if we don’t tie the knot. McKeever’s play may be about gay marriage, but it’s a universal story that reminds us to grab those we love and hold them close. Love really is precious; and when we find someone we truly love, we should fight for them with everything we have.”

Also in the cast are Jenny O’Hara (the Fountain’s Bakersfield Mist) as Daniel’s mother, and Ed Martin and Jose Fernando as the couple’s good friends. The creative team includes set and props designer DeAnne Millais, lighting designer Jennifer Edwards, sound designer Peter Bayne and costume designer Michael Mullen. The production stage manager is Jessica MoratayaStephen SachsDeborah Culver and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre.

Daniel’s Husband premiered at South Florida’s Island City Stage in 2015 before going on to enjoy successful off-Broadway runs at New York City’s Primary Stages in 2017 and again at the Westside Theatre in 2018.

“I practically had to carry my best friend out of the theater in New York,” Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty recently noted in a spring arts preview article that highlighted the Fountain’s production.

Michael McKeever’s other plays include 37 Postcards, Suite Surrender, Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors, Stuff and Melt, and have been produced at Florida Stage (Manalapan), Marin Theatre Company (Marin County), Hudson Stage Company (New York), Phoenix Theatre (Indianapolis) and Caldwell Theatre Company (Boca Raton) among many others. His comedies have played in some of the most prestigious theaters in Europe, including Komödie Dresden (Dresden), Och-Teatr (Warsaw) and Theater in der Josefstadt, Kammerspiele (Vienna). He has been honored with an NEA Residency Grant (New Theatre, Miami) and has been a three-time finalist for Humana Fest’s nationally renowned Heideman Award. He is the recipient of five Carbonell Awards; two Silver Palm Awards; and three Florida Individual Artist Fellowships. He is also an award-winning actor and designer. He is a founding member of the award-winning theatre Zoetic Stage in Miami. He resides in South Florida and is a member of the Dramatists Guild and Actors’ Equity.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall and the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in the Music Center’s Our L.A. Voices festival at Grand Park. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s recent West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list.

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Smoldering romance in classic noir film ‘Brief Encounter’ and new play ‘Arrival & Departure’

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Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard

by James Bennett

Sometimes the most important things in our lives aren’t singular, momentous events of shattering spontaneity, but instead, slow burns that steadily coalesce into an unstoppable force; such is the case in the smoldering romance depicted in Noël Coward and David Lean’s masterpiece Brief Encounter.  The film deposits us into a beautifully shot noir-esque chiaroscuro world where the contrasts painted on the silver screen mirror the push of the social norms expected of our upstanding subjects and the pull of their desperate, hopelessly contained passion.

As with Brief Encounter, our couples in the world premiere of Stephen Sachs’ new play Arrival & Departure meet in a train station, (theirs the kind that churns coal and grinds steel, ours the kind that surges below the earth.) Brief Encounter’s couple’s first rendezvous transpires in a tidy and charming tea shop, ours in a gritty Dunkin’ Donuts. Over the course of the production, fans of the classic may notice some deviations, updates, and modifications – but none of them alter the thrust of this timeless piece. The heart of yesterday beats with the same rhythm as the heart of today.

Brief Encounter, based on Coward’s one-act play Still Life, is just one of Lean and Coward’s many collaborations, and remains a beacon that has gone on to inform the genre and influence many cinematic brief encounters since. Coward, never married and secretly gay, adapted his one-act with such skill as to retain all the desire and simmering torment he felt in his heart, and that drove his protagonists toward their scintillating, but ultimately doomed affair.

Today, our world is fraught with global geopolitical distress, corruption, panic, and cruelty emanating from the highest offices in our land. Speed of light communication allows us the privilege of experiencing first hand the acute crises of people the world over. Everything is immediate, huge, and of dire importance – this is not the case with Brief Encounter. Lean, who later would become known for his epics (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago) instead delivers to us a simple, clean, purely shot film that takes us deep into the hearts of humankind, and shows us that something close, something intimate, something that slyly unfurls in our psyche can become powerful enough to overcome a lifetime of repression. Perhaps it was only someone who could see things so large, could so beautifully show us something so small.

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE Love Story to Star Married Deaf Actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray

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An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most romantic movies of all time. Stephen Sachs directs Deaf actors Deanne Bray (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Heroes) and Troy Kotsur (title role in Cyrano at the Fountain, Big River on Broadway) in Sachs’ newest play, inspired by the screenplay for Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter. The world premiere of Arrival & Departure will open on July 14 and continue through September 30 at the Fountain Theatre. The cast also features hearing actors Jessica Jade Andres, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Aurelia Myersand Stasha Surdyke.

In Sachs’ new spin on the classic 1945 British film, a Deaf man (Kotsur) and a hard-of-hearing woman (Bray), two married strangers, meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. As their casual friendship develops into something deeper, each is forced to confront how their simmering relationship could forever change their lives and the lives of those they love.

“A train station is a place of transition, a place people go when they’re on their way to someplace else,” notes Sachs. “‘Arrival & Departure’ is not only a travel term. It expresses the journey of change that the people in this play are experiencing. What happens when you find your soul mate, but the circumstances of life get in the way?”

Kostsur and Bray are married in real life, and Sachs wrote the play with them in mind.

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur

“This is my valentine to the two of them,” he says. “But the characters they portray aren’t the only ones seeking human connection in the play. Other storylines interweave through the piece. Each character has a reason to reach out to someone.”

The 1945 classic film Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean with a screenplay by Noël Coward and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, was named “the most romantic film ever made” according to 101 industry experts polled by Time Out London. The Film Society of Lincoln Center named it “one of the most achingly romantic films ever made.”

The play is performed simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language with additional use of open captioning, so that both Deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the production.

The creative team for Arrival & Departure includes set designer Matthew G. Hill, lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Nick Santiago, composer and sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Michael Mullen, prop master Michael Navarro, movement director Gary Franco and ASL masters Lisa Hermatz and Jevon Whetter. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer. Simon Levy, Deborah Culver and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre. Executive producers are Karen Kondazian; Diana Buckhantz and The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation; and Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber. Producing underwriters include Dorothy and Stanley Wolpert; Suzanne and Don Zachary; Lois Tandy; Debbi and Ashley Posner; and The Howard and Helen Family Foundation.

Arrival & Departure is supported, in part, by generous grants from the David Lee Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

Deanne Bray was born deaf and has been bilingual in American Sign Language and English since the age of two. She kicked off her acting career in 1991 at the Fountain Theatre, where Stephen Sachs directed her in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Bray is best known for the title role in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, which ran for three seasons on the PAX network. She has appeared in numerous TV shows, including a recurring role on NBC’s Heroes alongside Milo Ventimiglia and Masi Oka. On stage, Deanne has been seen in Deaf West Theatre productions of Big River, Sleeping Beauty Wakes and My Sister in This House. A graduate of Gallaudet University, she has a Masters in Sign Language Education and a California K-12 Teaching Credential from CSUN. She currently teaches ASL at Oak Park High School.

Troy Kotsur has been acting and directing for over 24 years, earning multiple awards for his work on stage. Deaf since birth, he attended Gallaudet University, where he played basketball for three years before leaving to become a professional actor with the National Theatre of the Deaf. In 1994, Troy moved to Los Angeles and joined the company of Deaf West Theatre, where he has performed in countless productions. His television guest-starring roles include Criminal Minds, Scrubs, CSI: NY and Sue Thomas F.B.Eye in a recurring role (starring alongside Deanne Bray) that became a fan-favorite. In film, he stars in Wild Prairie Rose and in the upcoming Inside Track, and he has had notable supporting roles in The Number 23 with Jim Carrey, Universal Signs and Father’s Day Breakfast. He directed the award-winning independent film No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie, the first film in the history of SAG commercial feature films to be directed by a Deaf director and to be executive-produced exclusively by Deaf executive producers. Troy’s stage credits include the Tony Award-winning run of Big River on Broadway, as well as starring roles in Deaf West Theatre productions of American Buffalo (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nominee), Our Town at The Pasadena Playhouse, Cyrano at the Fountain (L.A. Drama Critic’s Circle Award for best actor, Ovation Award nominee), A Streetcar Named Desire (L.A. Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly awards) and Of Mice and Men (LA Weekly Award for best actor).

Stephen Sachs is an award-winning playwright, director, producer and the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, which he co-founded with Deborah Culver in 1990. He recently adapted and directed a celebrity reading of the screenplay for All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall starring Bradley Whitford, Joshua Malina and Jeff Perry. His stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Stage Raw Award at Fountain Theatre) inaugurated Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and was chosen to represent Los Angeles theater for Grand Park’s new Our L.A. Voices Arts Festival. His play Bakersfield Mist enjoyed a three-month run on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and is now being produced in regional theaters across the country, translated into other languages and performed worldwide. Other plays include Cyrano (L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist), Sweet Nothing in My Ear (PEN USA Literary Award finalist) and several others. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs’ directing credits My Name is Asher Lev (L.A. premiere); Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris (U.S. premiere); Bakersfield Mist (world premiere); Completeness by Itamar Moses, starring Jason Ritter; Side Man starring Christine Lahti; The Train Driver by Athol Fugard (U.S. premiere); Conor McPherson’s Shining City (L.A. premiere); the world premiere of Fugard’s Exits and Entrances at the Fountain (Ovation Award, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award) and off-Broadway at Primary Stages; Fugard’s The Road to Mecca (L.A. premiere); Arthur Miller’s After the Fall (Ovation Award); Sweet Nothing in My Ear (world premiere); Hippolytos, inaugurating the outdoor classical theater at the Getty Villa in Malibu; and many others. Sachs was recently honored with a Certificate of Commendation from the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and again, this year, as the centerpiece of Our L.A. Voices at Grand Park; and an all-star reading of All The President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s most recent production, The Chosen, enjoyed rave reviews and ran for five sold-out months.

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The Fountain Theatre gives voice to a cry of sexual assault in new play ‘The Lighthouse’

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Garret Wagner, Kelley Mack, Michael D. Turner and Chops Bailey.

By Catherine Womack

“It’s beach week, baby!” A tall, handsome college athlete cracks open a cold beer as he flops onto a worn sofa. The semester is over for Shane and his friends, and the stress of final exams is quickly fading into a blur of sun, sand and mojitos served in red Solo cups.

Onstage at the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood, six young actors fall easily into the rhythms of day drinking and banter inside the fictional rented vacation home. The set is sparse, but the inside jokes and casual flirtations between its occupants feel so real you can practically smell the salty air and taste the PBR.

But there is an elephant in this living room.

Perched on a tall director’s  chair  in  the  middle of the stage, seemingly invisible to the revelers, sits a silent female lifeguard. Only when she’s left alone with Jesse,    the    play’s    central character, does the lifeguard begin to speak.

“Are you sure you want to be wearing that?” the lifeguard asks, peering disapprovingly over her sunglasses at Jesse’s short denim shorts and tank top. “Are you trying to get laid for attention or validation?”

Hypercritical, judgmental and disparaging, the lifeguard is a constant presence throughout Amanda Kohr’s 80-minute, one-act play, “The   Lighthouse.”   As   the winner   of   the   Fountain’s competition-style Rapid Development Series, the play received two nights of free semi-staged readings last week — all part of an effort to give a louder voice to playwrights under 30.

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Jessica Broutt and James Bennett, co-creators/producers of Rapid Development Series.

One of several surrealist elements in the show, the lifeguard plays the part of Jesse’s darkest inner voice following a traumatic sexual assault at the beach house. “The Lighthouse” is Kohr’s indictment of rape culture and the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Kohr said the play was inspired by the 2015 case of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, and was informed by Kohr’s own experiences.

On two printed sheets of folded white office paper that served as the program for the evening, Kohr, 27, wrote candidly about her own story:

“I grew up accepting sexual assault — the act was so prevalent that it swam below the radar under the perception as normalcy. By 16 I had been manipulated into unwanted sexual situations, assaulted and catcalled.”

As an undergraduate at James Madison University in Virginia, Kohr said in an earlier phone interview, she “heard about, witnessed and experienced so much sexual assault and harassment among college-age students that it just become normal.” At times, she said, she felt like it was “harder to find had.”

Kohr  wrote  “The  Lighthouse” in summer 2016. She had read Jon Krakauer’s reported narrative, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” and she closely followed the Stanford case as it unfolded. She was appalled by the leniency of Turner’s sentence — six months, reduced to three months for good behavior — and was inspired by the letter that his victim read at the sentencing hearing.

“I am a firm believer that entertainment can help educate,” Kohr said, “so I really strove to draw my audience in through comedy and then bash them with the truth.”

Kohr wrote the play more than a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, sexual assault and harassment became a national cultural conversation, and #MeToo became a movement.  That’s  one  reason Jessica Broutt, 25, the co-founder and co-producer of the Fountain’s Rapid Development Series, found Kohr’s play so compelling.

Broutt, who interned at the Fountain as a college student and worked briefly as the company’s box office manager, came up with the idea for the series with Fountain associate producer James Bennett four years ago.

“We noticed that there weren’t really a lot of young people going to the theater,” she said. “We would go to all these awesome reading series at other theaters, but it was never young people who were playwrights, and they generally weren’t  L.A.- based.”

Jessica Hailey Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Marie Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Jessica Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Broutt and Bennett pitched the idea to the Fountain’s management as a sort of theatrical battle of the bands. Broutt would select four plays by L.A. playwrights under 30. The theater would provide the actors and the space, and each play would receive a “snapshot” reading at which audiences vote for their favorite, drawing them more actively into the experience.

The actors and directors are volunteers, and the performances are free.

“We were trying to rule out all the reasons why people our age don’t goto plays,” Broutt said.

This year marks the series’ fourth season. Broutt says that when she read “The Lighthouse,” she knew immediately it was special.

“I just felt like, wow, this is a play that is taking on rape culture and breaking it down in a way that is educational and provides a surrealism and a humor that will engage people,” she said. “It’s very rare for me to see something that is doing all of those things effectively. And then as we were going through development last fall, the Harvey Weinstein stuff came out.”

In just a few months Kohr has been able to work with Broutt to polish the play, have it receive two short readings as it progressed through the competition, and watch it performed onstage in its entirety for the first time.

“When I was in college I had a lot of shorter things staged,” Kohn said, “but this is  my  first  thing  that’s  like borderline professional.”

Audience members on Wednesday night were racially diverse and younger than what’s typical in most

L.A. theaters. They laughed out loud as Jesse’s rapist, Shane, was presented as a hero during exaggerated, game-show-style court proceedings. And some wiped tears from their eyes when Jesse found the strength to silence her inner-critic lifeguard and rediscover her own confident voice.

At  the  end  of  the  “The Lighthouse,” the house lights came up dramatically as Jesse called for people to speak out and shine a light on sexual misconduct. In the front row, Kohr hugged her friends. Her #MeToo story had found an audience.

This post originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.